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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Transitions: Teaching using a Foreign Language

When teaching a foreign language it is quite important to have most if not all of the class conducted in the target language. Japan is currently undergoing a transition that intends to enforce this through a new course of study. This transition will not be easy as there are many barriers, however with the right mindset and preparation this transition does not have to be as difficult as many expect. Below I will outline a few simple steps to help aid teachers who may be in transition.

Keep it Simple:
You are never too good for the basics. This is something that is often forgotten in many classes. If teachers remember to continually reinforce simple language and commands through repeated use the students will quickly adapt and find themselves more ready for daily use of their target language.

Commands such as; sit down, stand up, pass the papers back, hand your home work in, answer the question etc should always be done in the target language. It is also important to use numbers and other simple language consistently. You may even consider having the students write their names and the date on all assignments using the target language.

This type of simple language can be used in every class and can be learnt quite quickly. However if it is not used regularly it can be forgotten just as quickly. So keep it simple and never give up on the basics.

Repeat Yourself:
If you are finding it difficult to adjust to teaching strictly in the target language begin to repeat yourself. If you give a command in the non-target language immediately repeat it in the target language. This will begin to become time consuming. To compensate for this limit your use of the non-target language.

Repeat After Me:
Chorus reading may not be overly effective in language acquisition however it will help the students warm up their tongues and stay engaged in class. If things are starting to get quiet or you feel you are speaking far more than the students simply have them repeat key words or phrases after you from time to time.

Believe in Your Students:
One of the most difficult things about conducting a class wholly in the target language is feeling like you are not being understood. However the point in class is for the students to improve their foreign language abilities not to mindlessly complete the scheduled tasks.

Be patient your transition to conducting classes in your target language will not be simple. Many times it will seem like the students are lost but if they are given the time to adapt to your new methods of teaching their overall learning outcome will likely be much greater. Give it a month or two. The students will struggle but when it all starts to click you may find yourself pleasantly surprised with their improvement.

Do as I do:
A great teacher is not one who has mastered their chosen subject but rather someone who can empathize with their students struggle while offering them the appropriate structure to foster a desired learning outcome. A great teacher is someone who loves teaching as much as they love learning.  Students can sense if you truly enjoy your subject or not. If you can show them how much you enjoy the subject they may start to understand how the subject at hand can become more enjoyable to them. 

If you are still having a hard time preparing yourself to transition into teaching using the target language consider this, if you wanted to teach someone how to swim would you take them to the nearest baseball field, lecture them about the theory of swimming and show them a few basic stroke forms? If you did they would likely flounder if not drown when they were finally let into the water.

We want to make our classroom immersive places where both the teacher and students can learn, develop and make mistakes. When it comes to teaching a foreign language the first step in developing such an atmosphere is simply using the target language. I once had a Japanese student, one who is attending what many consider a high level High School, tell me they did not enjoy studying English because they had not actually used English in years. With that being said ask yourself  when was the last time you and your students really used your chosen language of study?

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